Campaign for Vermont, the Bruce Lisman-funded public policy organization, recently sent out an interesting email blast.
The missive, dated February 25, was sent to all of Vermont’s town clerks; it asked the clerks to use their public standing on behalf of CFV:
As a staple within your community, you have the unique vantage point to facilitate the exchange of ideas. Additionally, because of your role in local government, you have the chance to experience and therefore critique many policies. To this end, Campaign for Vermont (CFV) would like to share the attached economic position paper and our newly released economic indicators report.
Ah, the generosity of these folks, freely sharing the fruits of their labor. And what do they want the clerks to do in return?
…we are excited to have you read our ideas, use your community connections to evaluate the effectiveness and legitimacy of our proposals, as well as provide feedback to Campaign for Vermont. We encourage you to share this document with business leaders in your community.
Oh. Hm. So CFV wants our publicly-elected, publicly-paid clerks to become unpaid shills for its flackery.
I doubt that CFV will get much out of this; most clerks, I imagine, simply trashed the message. As they should; this smells a bit funny to me, asking an officeholder who is supposed to be an objective arbiter of elections to become an advocate. Even if the request comes from a “nonpartisan” group.
I asked Secretary of State Jim Condos for his reaction. “It’s not illegal but it may put a clerk in a difficult position,” he wrote in an email. “It’s not something we would recommend that the clerk do, in the interest of maintaining an appearance of impartiality.” He further suggested that such a request “would be better for selectboard and city council members.”
For all I know, CFV did send the same request to those officials. I happened to receive the clerks’ email.
So, not illegal but unwise. And, it seems to me, just a little bit desperate. CFV is trying to establish broad visibility without Lisman and ease its dependence on the mighty Lisman wallet. Its executive director Cyrus Patten has been busily roaming the halls of the Statehouse, which is good, but it looks like he may have taken a step too far in trying to connect with the general public.